You Have Become Dull of Hearing

Ear, static

In making a point about the superiority of Christ’s priesthood over the priesthood of Aaron, the Hebrew writer cited the priesthood of Melchizedek. Since Jesus was “a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:10; cf. Psalm 110:4), His priesthood was superior. He would go on to explain why this proved the superiority of Jesus’ priesthood later in the epistle (Hebrews 7:1-10).

However, he paused the discussion about comparing the priesthoods because it was “hard to explain” (Hebrews 5:11), even though it was certainly not impossible. The problem was not that the facts were difficult. Instead, the problem was that these brethren were “dull of hearing” (Hebrews 5:11). As the Hebrew writer would explain, this problem affected more than just their understanding of Jesus’ priesthood – it had the potential of costing them their souls.

We need to understand what it means to be “dull of hearing,” what the result is of being in that condition, and how to fix it.

What It Means to Be Dull of Hearing

First, let us consider what it does not mean when one is “dull of hearing”:

  • It does not mean that one is unintelligent or incapable of understanding – The Hebrew brethren were capable of understanding this subject that was “hard to explain” (Hebrews 5:11). We know this because the Hebrew writer returned to it just two chapters later rather than waiting a few years and writing a second letter to them when they might have matured to the point in which they were ready to consider the issue.
  • It does not mean that one has abandoned the faith – The recipients of this letter were Christians (Hebrews 6:9-10) who had been described as “holy brethren” (Hebrews 3:1). Of course, there was a danger that “an evil, unbelieving heart” could develop within them (Hebrews 3:12); but they had not yet reached that point of unfaithfulness.
  • It does not mean that one is a new Christian who has not learned the word of God well enough yet – New Christians need the “milk of the word” (1 Peter 2:2; cf. Hebrews 5:13) – the fundamental teachings and principles of the gospel in order to lay a foundation for continued spiritual growth. This is perfectly normal. Yet enough time had passed for these Hebrew brethren to have matured (Hebrews 5:12). They simply had not grown as they should have.

Being dull of hearing indicates laziness. Thayer’s definition of this Greek word suggests the idea of sluggishness and indolence. One who is “dull of hearing” is not necessarily lazy in every area of life. One may be a very hard worker at his job or at home, but is still “dull of hearing” as the Hebrew writer described. This is a laziness about learning the word of God.

Learning the word of God requires diligence on our part. Paul told Timothy, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). We can learn how to accurately handle the Bible by coming to a proper understanding of it if we are willing to put in the effort of studying the Scriptures. Many people in the world are hard-working at their jobs but lazy when it comes to the Bible. If we are not careful, we can become the same way – just like the Hebrew brethren.

The Result of Being in This Condition

In rebuking these brethren for being “dull of hearing,” the Hebrew writer explained why this was such a serious issue by showing the results of being in that condition.

One who is “dull of hearing” cannot discuss difficult Bible topics – The gospel message is simple enough that one can learn and obey it in the same hour of the night (Acts 16:31-34). However, there are also passages of Scripture that are “hard to understand” which one could “distort” to his “own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16). Diligence is needed in order to “accurately [handle] the word of truth” contained in these difficult passages (2 Timothy 2:15). Yet when one is “dull of hearing,” there are certain passages that he will not be able to discuss and come to a proper understanding.

One who is “dull of hearing” needs to be taught the elementary principles again – The rebuke of these Hebrew brethren was that they needed “someone to teach [them] the elementary principles of the oracles of God” again (Hebrews 5:12). These “elementary principles” are certainly important and necessary, but we need to make spiritual progress in our understanding of the word of God. Paul told Timothy to “give attention to the public reading of Scripture” and to “be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all” (1 Timothy 4:13, 15). One who is “dull of hearing” never makes sufficient progress to move past the “elementary principles.

One who is “dull of hearing” is incapable of teaching others – Everyone needs to be developing the ability to teach. The future health and effectiveness of local churches depends upon it (2 Timothy 2:2). A church cannot function without teachers (Ephesians 4:11-12). Therefore, the more members in a congregation who are “dull of hearing” and unable to teach, the weaker that local church is.

One who is “dull of hearing” will remain in a state of spiritual infancy – This state is natural and normal when one first obeys the gospel (1 Peter 2:2). However, staying in that state is a sign of spiritual sickness. One is spiritually healthy when he is “walking in truth” (3 John 2-3). One who is “dull of hearing” cannot properly walk in the truth because he is “not accustomed to the word” (Hebrews 5:13).

One who is “dull of hearing” puts his salvation in jeopardy – Diligence is needed in order to realize our hope (Hebrews 6:11). The Hebrew writer said that Christians are not to be “sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:12). The word translated sluggish is the same Greek word as the one used to describe being dull of hearing. If unchecked, this laziness toward the word of God will extend to the rest of our spiritual lives as well.

How to Fix the Problem

After identifying the problem and warning of the results of it, the Hebrew writer’s instructions also contain some things that can be done to correct the problem.

One who is “dull of hearing” must first recognize the problem – It is not possible to correct a problem if we do not know that it exists. This requires honest self-evaluation on our part. Paul wrote, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5). We have to be willing to look at ourselves critically to see if we are “dull of hearing.

One who is “dull of hearing” must quit partaking only of “milk – The Hebrew writer said, “For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant” (Hebrews 5:13). The word “only” is key. We will always need reminders of what we have previously learned (2 Peter 1:12-13; 1 Timothy 4:6), but we cannot only pay attention to what we already think we know.

One who is “dull of hearing” must make a habit of studying the Bible – The Hebrew writer said, “But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14). The word “practice” means a habit (Thayer). We have already seen that diligence is necessary in our study of the Bible (2 Timothy 2:15), but we must invest time as well. Paul wrote, “Making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:16-17). Making wise use of our time will, among other things, lead us to understand God’s will that has been revealed in His word because we will be making time to study the Scriptures.

One who is “dull of hearing” must “press on to maturity – The need to “press on to maturity” is contrasted with the idea of “laying again a foundation” of the elementary principles (Hebrews 6:1). We must recognize that we are expected to grow (2 Peter 3:18; 1 Timothy 4:13, 15). We must develop the ability to teach and to study through and understand difficult passages.

One who is “dull of hearing” must build upon the foundation of the elementary principles – The Hebrew writer said that the “elementary teaching about the Christ” was the “foundation” (Hebrews 6:1). We cannot abandon that foundation. Instead, we need to build upon it. We can do this by continuing to add to our faith (2 Peter 1:5-8) and perfecting our faith through works (James 2:22).

Conclusion

We cannot afford to be lazy with the Bible. We need to be diligent with it as with everything else. It is certainly true that Bible study can be challenging, but we need to apply ourselves to it so we can be pleasing to the Lord.


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